Obstacles to Participation: The Little Free Library Edition — A TTW Guest Post by Jonathan Pacheco Bell

listeningThis Little Free Library in Los Angeles is at the center of controversy. Little Free Libraries embody community participation and action.

The Little Free Library (LFL) movement has quickly caught on across the US. The dollhouse-sized miniature libraries are found on front lawns, parks, and public squares coast to coast. LFLs house books and magazines for community members. Circulation is free and runs on an honor system. The motto: “Take a book. Return a book.” As @michael pointed out in this Module 5 article, LFLs support literacy, stewardship, and community. They’re also examples of low-tech, high value localized collections that offer community enrichment and connection in public space. LFLs are a manifestation of community participation, action, and improvement. Who could object?

Rest assured, every community has someone who relishes being a killjoy. As this recent Los Angeles Times article explains, one L.A. homeowner has been ordered to remove the LFL he built in the parkway (grassy strip between the road and sidewalk) in front of his house. An anonymous angry neighbor complained to city hall. Such complaints happen often enough that LFL leadership published this guide for dealing with code enforcement complaints.

As Michael Casey notes, participatory libraries today face difficult times given the naysayers and prognosticators of doom. The story of upheaval caused by a tiny wooden book box in L.A. resonates with #hyperlibs and participatory libraries today. It illustrates the challenges we face trying to enlist participation for library initiatives. From this episode we can glean some cautionary lessons:

  • Obstacles to participation are inevitable – Know that there will be obstacles to participation. Participation requires time, effort, teamwork, investment, motivation and sacrifice — all the things that stoke resistance in some people! The sooner we identify the inevitable obstacles the faster we can develop options to address them.
  • Obstacles may be homegrown – We may think participation obstacles will come from cowardly, cautious, listless managers talking about “Nobody will use this service.” Know that resistance can easily come from within. The angry neighbor who reported the LFL was from the same community that overwhelmingly loved this service. We rely on participation from people close [geographically and/or digitally] to the service. They’re not always allies.
  • People are obstacles – Know that the people we want to participate can be fickle, defeatist, and negative. Some just won’t commit to an initiative, or they commit half way, no matter how great it is. They share none of our enthusiasm for participatory service. They’re naysayers who stomp on ideas. Despite how cool, populist, and innovative DOK’s user-generated content is, I’m sure killjoys griped about having to provide the photos. These kind of people are not the majority, but they do exist.
  • Institutions are obstacles – Perhaps the biggest obstacle is the institutional framework in which libraries operate. Public libraries are bureaucracies. They are functions of municipal government, which is historically and colloquially equated to bureaucracy par excellence. As discussed in my Context Book Review, pervasive red tape — codes, rules, standards, policies, protocols, processes — suffocates innovation in government. The offending LFL in the parkway is a problem solely because a long-ago-written ordinance defines parkway placements as dangerous “obstructions.” The well intentioned code does not account for the LFL’s actual use or context. Codes notoriously do not evolve with the times, largely bureaucracy makes change difficult to achieve. Know that this kind of stifling environment undercuts motivation we need for participatory service.

Knowing these lessons ahead of time makes us better prepared to respond to the inevitable obstacles facing participatory service. Leadership is needed to deal with obstacles and ensure participation. Planning ahead, forecasting challenges, developing alternatives and creative solutions, exhibiting courage — these are hallmarks of strong leadership toward these ends. It pays off, too. As this article reports, the owner of the LFL in L.A. is fighting back, as is another LFL owner in Shreveport, Louisiana. Precedent and momentum are on their side. Just check out 9-year-old Spencer’s LFL story and video!

 

Jonathan is a Los Angeles Urban Planner and MLIS student at SJSU’s School of Information. Jonathan’s professional interests include library design, libraries as public space, and the role of public libraries in urbanized communities of color. His work has been published in UrbDeZine, Public Libraries, Public Library Quarterly, and SJSU  SOI’s Student Research Journal. He earned his M.A. in Urban Planning from UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs in 2005 and studied political science and architecture as an undergraduate. Jonathan will complete the MLIS in 2016.
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Not Just Where to Click by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

I am very excited to announce the publication of Not Just Where to Click: Teaching Students How to Think About Information from ACRL. I co-edited this collection with Heather Jagman.

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From the ALA Website: Not Just Where to Click: Teaching Students How to Think about Information explores how librarians and faculty work together to teach students about the nature of expertise, authority, and credibility. It provides practical approaches for motivating students to explore their beliefs, biases, and ways of interpreting the world.

This book also includes chapters that bridge the gap between the epistemological stances and threshold concepts held by librarians and faculty, and those held by students, focusing on pedagogies that challenge students to evaluate authority, connect to prior knowledge and construct new knowledge in a world of information abundance. Authors draw from a deep pool of perspectives including social psychology, critical theory, and various philosophical traditions.

Contributors to the nineteen chapters in this volume offer a balance of theoretical and applied approaches to teaching information literacy, supplying readers with accessible and innovative ideas ready to be put into practice.

 

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Troy SwansonTroy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the co-editor of the recent book from ACRL, Not Just Where to Click: Teaching Students How to Think About Information. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.

The Relationship Model: What Journalism Can Teach Us by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

I have been keeping tabs on the state of journalism over the last decade. I do this because it is part of my job as someone who helps build information literacy skills in students, but I also do this because the disruptive forces ripping apart journalism are related to forces impacting libraries. Journalism is at the epicenter of the earthquake, and we’re a bit more removed (so far at least). As media companies implode, merge, vanish, and reappear in new forms, I think it would do libraries well to sit up and take some notes.

One of these opportunities caught my ear when I heard Jeff Jarvis interviewed on WNYC’s On the Media. The interview entitled “Geeks Bearing Gifts”
(same title as his new book) challenges journalists to rethink what it means to cover the news. He discussed “the relationship model” of journalism. I was struck by this approach. It connected so directly to discussions about libraries and community that if I would go through the transcripts of the interview and replace the word “journalism” with “librarianship,” I could probably get it published in the library literature. In the least, I could probably pass it off as something David Lankes, Justin Hoenke, or Michael Stephens might have said.

Jarvis notes, “We have to stop thinking of journalism as a content factory, and we have to rethink it as a service.” He says that in the relationship model of journalism the press becomes a platform for community information. Jarvis uses the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy as an example. During this tragic event reporters covered the flooding, damage and drama, but the people on the ground needed actionable information. They needed to find wi-fi to contact loved ones. They needed to know how to get necessities. They needed to know what streets were closed and where to get gas. News outlets repeated stories and warned people of the danger, but they did not act as avenues for the public to share information. They reported things that everyone on the ground already knew. They didn’t report information that people on the ground actually needed.

“What we’re used to doing in journalism is deciding what’s important and then writing about it. I think the process of journalism doesn’t start with the story,” Jarvis states. “The process of journalism necessarily starts with listening to the public and only then finding the best mechanisms to help the public meet their needs. If all we do is keep churning out four hundred pieces of content a day, the same to everyone, then, that’s not a great service. And, I think we have to reinvent other ways to help communities to come together to share what they know.”

In summary, he says, “We may end up looking more like community organizers, and that’s a different, perhaps heretical, way to look at journalism.”

As we consider ways that libraries will evolve in the future, Jarvis’s thinking feels familiar. The “library as platform” is not a new concept, but it remains a concept not fully realized in most places. It is easier to imagine than it is to implement. I believe that the pressures on journalism are more dire than those pressing libraries, but clearly, librarians should continue to take them seriously. Digital disruption (disintermediation) is impacting not only journalism, but also music, television, film, and many segments of the economy. The forces they face and the obstacles they must overcome are not identical to those libraries will face, so we will have to come up with our own unique answers. But, we can still learn from their trials.

You can listen to Jeff Jarvis on On the Media here:

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Troy SwansonTroy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the co-editor of the recent book from ACRL, Not Just Where to Click: Teaching Students How to Think About Information. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.

Library of the Future – Keith Webster’s New Blog

Folks – Don’t miss this new blog by Carnegie Mellon University Dean of Libraries Keith Webster:

http://www.libraryofthefuture.org

Keith is one of the academic library leaders I look to for insights and ideas related to higher ed and library service. Look for his articles and presentations – you won’t be disappointed. For example:

From his introductory post:

If the librarian’s profession is increasingly to be conducted outside the library, then what of the building itself?  We know that our libraries are busier than ever, but studies point to much of the use of our facilities being independent of our traditional roles.  Interactions with librarians are increasingly rare, and the use of print collections has declined in many universities.  Demand is high for quiet study spaces, and for flexible study environments.  The construction of makerspaces and other technology-rich facilities has offered a draw card, certainly at my own university.  But what is the long-term future?  I recall the Follett Reportforeshadowing cheekily a future where library buildings, constructed to bear the immense weight of densely packed bookstacks, could be redeveloped as multistorey car parks (parking garages*)!  That hasn’t come to pass, yet, and the demise of the book is not nigh, but we do need to reflect upon the long term disposition of some of the most valuable real estate on our campuses.

Keith’s going to be exploring the evolving nature of the academic library with an eye toward trends, technology and service and a future view grounded in experience and research.  I am impressed with his accomplishments:

Keith Webster was appointed Dean of University Libraries at Carnegie Mellon University in July 2013. He also has a courtesy academic appointment at the University’s H. John Heinz III College. Previously, Keith was Vice President and Director of Academic Relations and Strategy for the global publishing company John Wiley and Sons. He was formerly Dean of Libraries and University Librarian at the University of Queenslandin Australia, leading one of the largest university and hospital library services in the southern hemisphere. Earlier positions include University Librarian at Victoria University in New Zealand, Head of Information Policy at HM Treasury, London, and Director of Information Services at the School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London.

Follow him on Twitter too: https://twitter.com/CMKeithW/

Connected Learning: Project Information Literacy Interviews S. Craig Watkins

Project Information Literacy (PIL) has just shared the Information Literacy’s latest “Smart Talk” interview with Craig Watkins a leading thinker on social media, connected learning and youth.

In the interview, Craig says:

“While schools do not always suffer from a lack of technology, they
consistently suffer from a lack of vision in how the technology will be used. In high-poverty schools, technology is rarely used to promote the development of higher-order thinking skills, such as design, problem-solving, or coding. Schools must invest in highly-skilled instructors and curricula that cultivate the skills associated with innovation. This is not necessarily a technological barrier, but rather a social barrier. By expanding what we help students learn
to do with technology, we increase the likelihood that they can begin to more fully leverage the power and possibilities of social, digital, and mobile platforms.”

To read the entire interview :
http://projectinfolit.org/smart-talks/item/143-craig-watkins-smart-talk

Librarian Stockholm Syndrome & the Meaning of Free: Lanier vs Anderson by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

In 2013, ALA Annual was in Chicago, and all of librarianship celebrated the greatness of the Chicago Blackhawks. It was a special time, and it was at this conference where I attended LITA’s Top Tech Trends panel. This panel was made up of smart folks all of whom I greatly respect (Gary Price, Aimee Fifarek, Sarah Houghton, Clifford Lynch, Char Booth and Brewster Kahle moderated by Loran Dempsey). The conversation covered many topics that have faded in my memory, but there was a part of it that has remained. Several panelists held up the benefits of free content and the need to break down pricing models. MOOCs, open access, and other forms of free content were glorified as an unstoppable force of empowerment. Panelists called on libraries to set content free. Techno-lust was in the air, and librarians were encouraged to join the disruption. Free was the new thing.

As former Wired editor and author of the book Free: the Future of a Radical Price, Chris Anderson puts it, “the Web has become the biggest store in history and everything is 100 percent off” (238). (Anderson was not part of the LITA panel, but he would very much support the discussion.)

Interestingly enough, the day before the LITA panel there was another talk by computer scientist turned philosopher Jaron Lanier, who offered a markedly different view. Lanier challenged us to think about the dehumanizing nature of technology and the ways that it is restructuring the economy. For example, social media is playing a big role in destabilizing media outlets. Small and medium news outlets that employed hundreds of thousands of people across the country have been destroyed by Craigslist which employees 100 people and Twitter which employees just over 3000. (An ovely simplified example of a larger trend.) Are we moving toward an economy where 1% of the people run the economy and the other 99% are disposable? Lanier in his book Who Owns the Future asks what happens if the internet destroys more jobs than it creates? What if we live in an economy where a select few profit from the free content created by the rest of us?

Over the last few years, we have been in the midst of a showdown over the meaning of “free”, and most of us haven’t even known it. When I think back to the 2013 ALA Annual Conference, I often think about the the contrasting conversations of the LITA panel and Lanier’s talk, because the contrast presents a challenge to our professional values. On the one hand, we support authors’ (and other creators’) right to make money from their creations, and on the other, we support open access and free information. These competing values have been with us for many decades, but their implications may be more acute. For instance, libraries offering OverDrive to patrons, and then OverDrive making patron data available to Amazon and/or Adobe would be the exact kind of problem Lanier would find disconcerting. The community building, creativity, and learning that occurs within our libraries could be reduced into a mass of data given away to companies in the name of better marketing. At the same time, Chris Anderson would argue that this is how “free” works in the new economy. We trade data for access. No biggie.

Libraries are stuck somewhere between Lanier and Anderson. In his book You Are Not a Gadget, Lanier discusses “journalistic Stockholm syndrome” where newspapers promote the very free services that are destroying news media. I wonder if there is a librarian Stockholm syndrome where libraries are promoting free services that are destroying communities? But at the same time, how can we not?

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Troy SwansonTroy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the co-editor of the recent book from ACRL, Not Just Where to Click: Teaching Students How to Think About Information. You can follow him on Twitter at@t_swanson.

 

Kickstarter for Circulating Ideas Podcast: Recirculated for Transcripts (by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson)

I am a big fan of the Circulating Ideas podcast. Steve does a great job of enriching the discussions within our profession. Thus, I wanted to share info about his Kickstarter. Help out if you can!

Circulating Ideas began as a podcast to share the innovative ideas and projects that librarians are creating to keep libraries vibrant and relevant in the 21st century. The show has spanned more than 60 hours of content with more than 100 librarians and library supporters and now I’d love to do more to make the show’s content more accessible and searchable. This Kickstarter campaign will allow for the transcription of the show’s content which will be made available for free on the website and as a DRM-free ebook.

Recirculated : Circulating Ideas Transcripts

Thanks Alaska Library Association!

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Thanks to the Alaska Library Association for the invitation and warm welcome to Juneau last week. I was honored to keynote the conference and spend time with the incredibly dedicated Alaskan librarians.

I was also able to break away for the afternoon and hike around the Mendenhall Glacier. It was stunning!

Slide downloads:

Smaller Download: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/239835/stephensalaskakeynote2.27.15Small.pdf (30MB)

BIG download: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/239835/stephensalaskakeynote2.27.15.pdf (300MB – why does Keynote create such huge PDFs?)

On encouraging the heart…

On encouraging the heart…. This is important as we move into a more emotionally rich, experience-based world. Our networks enable us to extend the heart across cyberspace. User-centered planning, engaging and exciting creativity-focused spaces, and opportunities to follow one’s curiosity wherever it may lead are all part of the heart of libraries. The library should encourage the heart.

The Hyperlinked Library word cloud by Fall 2014 #hyperlib student Sandy Chauvin.

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People, Libraries & Technology – A Weblog by Michael Stephens